Reflecting on Two Years

Well, I wanted to put up footage of last Thursday’s game, but I can’t get it to work. Ah well. Maybe soon.

In the meantime, let’s talk about a few things. Or rather, I talk, you listen.

First off, Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition. As I’ve said before, I like this game. I like it a lot. I think it just works. But what we seem to like about it is how much it puts combat into its own little bubble. It never really spills out into the surrounding plot, which we appreciate. No poring over pages of combat data or powers. We worry about such things only in combat.

See, our games have become quite narrativist. Mind that I feel that a narrative is key to a truly successful game. Even a shoestring plot is necessary to give the events coherence. What’s more, Chris and myself have taken to making our games places where we create worlds and cultivate characters, a pursuit we both enjoy greatly. Yes, this means no characters have died in my games. So what? Character death is overrated.

The only thing that doesn’t really work about 4e is the endgame bosses. Like Tiamat. Their defenses are WAY too high. Even lowering them by two each still makes them way too powerful, and Taimat’s 1,600 HP would take forever to whittle down. As such, we didn’t get to complete the game at all.

But that’s actually part of what made us realize that we like the storytelling better than the combat. That, indeed, it’d be okay if our games never again got to Epic tier. Do note that the game I had to put on hiatus did get to level 23 or so. Indeed, it ended on a massive cliffhanger, with the heroes facing down an Ancient White Dragon… But I get the feeling that just jumping to 30 was part of what caused the problems. We weren’t totally sure what was going on, and as such, things were just weird.

Moving on… I suppose if I ever got questions, one of them would be asking me how the hell I kept a game running for two years. Just what did I do to make this all possible?

Well, that’s not easy to explain. It took years of practice and study, and years of finding a group that actually worked for me. I can offer some advice, though.

First is, always be ready to run a game, even if you’d rather be a player. On the one hand, being a player might be more fun, but on the other, well… Players are more plentiful than Game Masters. To be sure, this game I host would not exist if I had not been there to offer to run the thing myself.

Second is, be flexible. Yes, maybe you enjoy Forgotten Realms. Or maybe you would like to run Eberron. Or perhaps you’re holding out for Dark Sun. But that won’t always happen. What happens if one of your players wants to be a Drow? Or, more to the point, a Warforged? This has actually happened TWICE in games I’ve planned. One wanted to be a “robot,” and the other wanted to be… Doctor Franken from Soul Eater. Don’t ask me. I don’t watch Soul Eater… (This is Burns, and to his credit, Cuts has evolved into far more than a pastiche of Franken.)

At any rate, your first thought might be to say “No,” but… You’d be doing yourself a disservice. Don’t look at it like it’s a burden. Look at it as a challenge. Heck, in my current game, I have a Warforged and a Changeling. I’m glad Chris is playing a Human Paladin, or I’d have one of the weirdest parties ever… But yes, look at it as a challenge, as you must find ways to work in things that you might not have been planning on. Trust me, unless your campaign is VERY orthodox, you can work in even the oddball Eberron races. Not sure what Dark Sun is cooking, but we will soon see, won’t we?

And that brings me to a VERY important point: Your story is NOT important. No, really. Dungeons & Dragons may be a powerful engine for crafting stories, but storytelling is not its main draw. No, it is a game, and as a game, you should have fun with it. The game should be fun for your players. As such, you need to run a campaign they are happy with. Do they want to fight as a special unit in a war? Give them a war fairly early on. Do they want to have mostly urban adventures, fighting in sewers, arenas and guildhalls, and sneaking around under cover of night? Provide large enough cities, with webs of conspiracies and secret societies. Do they want to fight against other-planar threats and take place in the war for the mortal realm on the Astral Sea’s end of things? Then by God, give them an Astral Skiff, point them in the right direction, and let them sail off to meet their destinies.

As I have mentioned before, but it certainly bears repeating… Your goal as a DM is NOT to tell a story, but to help guide and shape the stories your players want to tell. Now, the best stories are a compromise, and a good group has players who all can add something to the game, but let’s be fair here: Games have ended because of the vision of one person taking priority over the happiness of the group. Usually, this is the DM trying to tell a story his players want no part of.

I had a story I wanted to tell, but it’s changed considerably due to the input of my players. I wasn’t expecting a Warforged, oh no. I let that enrich my game, however. Remember, in general, the best thing you can say is “Yes,” and the worst is “No.”

It’s about give, and take. And, frankly, developing a bond with your players is not a bad thing either. Over the last two years, we’ve become friends. And this means something. This means a lot.

So… I dunno. It took me five years to find a game, so perhaps the most important advice I can give you is…

Don’t give up.



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